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Historic,  archived  document 

Do  not  assume  content  reflects  current 
scientific  knowledge,  policies,  or  practices 


L     3  R  A  R  V 






Leaflet  No.  410 




•i-\  ;",". 

By    H.    A.    Schoth, 

agronomist,    Field    Crops   Research    Branch, 
Research  Service 


Growing  root  crops  as  feed  for  livestock  and  poultry  is  relatively 
unimportant  in  the  United  States.  However,  small  acreages  of  root 
crops  for  livestock  feeding  purposes  will  probably  continue  to  be 
grown.  Farmers  who  have  only  a  few  head  of  livestock  and  con- 
sequently cannot  afford  the  use  of  a  silo  may  find  it  advantageous  to 
supply  the  succulence  needed  for  winter  feeding  by  growing  root  crops. 
Breeders  of  purebred  livestock,  and  especially  exhibitors,  prize  root 
crops  as  excellent  conditioners  for  their  animals.  Moreover,  the  roots 
can  be  stored  and  transported  under  conditions  impossible  with  silage. 

One  of  the  principal  reasons  for  the  small  acreage  planted  to  root 
crops  is  the  amount  of  hand  labor  required  to  produce  this  feed.  Until 
1935  the  more  humid  areas  of  the  Pacific  Northwest  produced  sizable 
tonnages.  By  1955  production  in  this  section  had  dwindled  to  the  point 
where  only  occasional  small  acreages  of  root  crops  were  grown — usualty 
for  some  special  purpose. 

Root  crop  production  in  the  United  States  for  feed  consists  mainly 
of  mangels,  rutabagas  or  Swedes,  turnips,  and  carrots. 

To  a  large  extent  silage  and  improved  pastures  have  replaced  root 
crops  in  areas  where  root  crops  were  grown  for  winter  and  early 
spring  succulent  livestock  feeds.  Improved  techniques  in  making 
silage  permit  the  use  of  crops  other  than  corn  for  silage.  Also,  silage 
of  good  quality  and  high  feed  value  can  be  made  from  practically  any 
field  crop  or  pasture  plant.  As  a  result,  use  of  silage  has  developed 
very  rapidly. 

Improved  pastures  are  producing  increased  yields  of  higher  quality 
forage.  New  varieties  of  forage  plants  extend  the  period  for  pas- 
turing. The  cost  per  unit  of  digestible  matter  is  decreasing  as  better 
management  practices  for  pastures  are  developed,  better  fertilizing 
programs  are  used,  improved  plants  are  becoming  available,  and  in- 
creased use  of  irrigation  is  practiced  wherever  feasible. 

In  a  greater  part  of  the  United  States,  corn  will  produce  a  larger 
tonnage  of  succulence  in  the  form  of  silage  than  can  be  obtained  from 
root  crops.    The  same  situation  prevails  in  many  places  where  grasses 

and  legumes  are  now  extensively  used  for  silage.  While  perhaps  the 
actual  nutritive  value  of  silage  made  from  miscellaneous  plant  ma- 
terials is  not  so  high  as  that  from  well-grown  and  properly  eared  for 
root  crops,  the  cost  of  producing  the  silage  in  proportion  to  the  feed 
value  is  much  less  than  for  the  root  crops.  Also,  silage  has  a  year- 
round  feeding  possibility ;  whereas,  roots,  except  under  the  best  storage 
facilities,  can  be  kept  for  perhaps  6  months. 


A  cool,  moist  climate  is  most  favorable  for  root  crop  production. 
Dryland  farming  conditions  in  the  northern  Great  Plains  produce 
satisfactory  yields  if  special  attention  is  given  to  soil  preparation  and 
plant  spacing  to  reduce  soil  moisture  loss. 

Deep,  fertile,  well-drained  loam  soils  usually  give,  highest  yields. 
Soils  that  are  good  for  corn,  potatoes,  sugar  beets,  and  medium-  to 
deep-rooted  legumes  are  generally  satisfactory.  The  diked  and  beaver- 
dam  lands  of  the  Pacific  Xorthwest  are  nearly  ideal  and  produce  heavy 
yields  of  root  crops. 


The  varieties  grown  are  mostly  of  European  stock.  Most  of  the 
seed  is  produced  in  Europe. 

The  more  common  varieties  of  mangels  include  Golden  Tankard. 
Half  Sugar.  Mammoth  Long  Red,  Danish  Sludstrup,  Red  Inter- 
mediate, Red  Eckendorf,  Yellow  Eckendorf.  and  Heavy  Cropper  or 
Giant  Gatepost. 

Varieties  of  rutabagas  include  American  Purple  Top,  Hurst  Mon- 
arch, Bangholm,  and  Improved  Purple  Top. 

Xumerous  varieties  of  turnips  are  grown  for  livestock  feed.  The 
more  common  varieties  include  Purple  Top  White  Globe,  Bortfield. 
Cowhorn.  White  Pomeranian,  White  Top  Aberdeen,  and  Green  Top 

Both  white-  and  yellow-fleshed  carrots  are  grown.  The  most  com- 
mon white-fleshed  variety  is  White  Belgian.  The  most  common 
yellow-fleshed  varieties  are  Chantenay,  Danvers,  Mastadon,  Oxheart. 
Improved  Long  Orange,  and  Giant  Yellow. 

On  deeper  soils  the  longer  rooted  Mammoth  Long  Red  mangels  and 
White  Belgian  carrots  are  desirable,  so  as  to  obtain  highest  yields. 
Other  varieties  of  mangels  and  carrots  and  other  root  crops,  while 
well  adapted  to  deeper  soils,  are  more  satisfactory  for  soils  that  are 
relatively  shallow. 


A  fine,  relatively  firm  seedbed  is  needed  for  root  crops.  It  is  best 
to  plow  at  a  time  when  the  soil  will  crumble  easily.  Preparation  to 
reduce  possible  weed  populations  to  a  minimum  before  planting  is  very 
desirable.  In  dryland  areas,  the  seedbed  should  be  prepared  so  that  a 
high  percentage  of  moisture  is  retained  to  insure  rapid  seed  germi- 
nation and  seedling  growth,  as  well  as  good  later  growth. 

409014°— 57  3 


An  abundance  of  readily  available  plant  food  is  essential  for  most 
satisfactory  production  of  root  crops.  Where  plant  food  is  not  present 
naturally,  barnyard  manure  or  commercial  fertilizer,  either  alone  or 
in  combination,  should  be  used.  A  complete  commercial  fertilizer, 
such  as  4-16-4  or  4^16-8,  is  often  applied  at  the  rate  of  400  to  700 
pounds  per  acre.  Use  of  manure  at  the  rate  of  20  tons  per  acre,  supple- 
mented with  300  to  400  pounds  of  superphosphate,  will  usually  result 
in  good  yields.  Manure  should  be  reasonably  well  rotted  and  applied 
before  plowing.  Commercial  fertilizers  are  applied  just  before  final 
seedbed  completion  and  disked  in  lightly. 

Root  crops  produce  best  on  soils  that  are  near  neutral  or  neutral  in 
reaction.  Lime  should  be  applied  in  quantities  large  enough  to  reduce 
the  acidity  to  at  least  the  neutral  point. 


Mangels  and  carrots  require  a  long  growing  season.  Mangels  should 
be  sown  as  soon  as  danger  of  frost  is  past  and  a  good  seedbed  can  be 
prepared.  In  the  Xorth  this  will  be  about  the  time  of  planting  corn. 
Carrots  are  usually  sown  after  the  soil  becomes  sufficiently  warm  to 
insure  rapid  seed  germination. 

The  time  of  sowing  rutabagas  and  turnips  will  depend  somewhat 
on  the  time  they  are  desired  for  feeding.  For  late  summer  or  early 
fall  feed,  early  sowing  is  desirable.  For  feed  in  late  fall  or  for  storing, 
sowing  can  be  as  late  as  early  June.  Occasionally  in  mild  winter 
climate  areas,  early  fall  seedings  of  rutabagas  or  turnips  are  made 
for  use  in  late  winter  or  early  spring. 

In  some  places  early  spring  seedings  of  root  crops  are  severely  dam- 
aged by  aphids  or  by  root  maggots.  Where  these  pests  occur,  sowing 
should  be  delayed  until  the  season  for  such  damage  is  past. 

Where  soil  moisture  may  be  a  limiting  factor  in  production,  early 
spring  seedings  are  usually  recommended;  plants  then  become  well 
established  and  get  full  benefits  from  all  available  moisture. 


Seeding  rates  depend  on  methods  of  seeding.  When  seeded  in  rows 
30  to  36  inches  apart,  6  to  8  pounds  of  seed  per  acre  is  needed  for 
mangels;  iy2  to  k2  pounds  for  carrots;  and  1  pound  for  rutabagas  or 
turnips.  Turnips  are  sometimes  seeded  broadcast  at  the  rate  of  4  to  5 
pounds  of  seed  per  acre. 


The  largest  yields  of  root  crops  are  usually  obtained  when  the  seed 
is  sown  by  planter  in  cultivated  rows.  Distances  between  rows  depend 
to  a  considerable  extent  on  soil  and  moisture  conditions  and  the  culti- 
vating equipment.  Distances  between  rows  may  vary  from  18  to  36 
inches.  Hand  seeders  or  small  drill  seeders  will  provide  evener  seed 
distribution  at  a  uniform  depth  and  reasonable  assurance  that  the  seed 
is  well  covered  and  in  contact  with  moisture.  Seeding  depth  for 
mangels  should  be  from  y2  to  %  inch ;  for  carrots,  y±  to  y2  inch ;  and 
for  rutabagas  or  turnips,  y2  inch. 


Frequent  and  thorough  cultivations  to  maintain  a  loose  surface 
mulch,  to  conserve  moisture,  and  to  check  weed  growth  are  essential 
for  success  in  growing  root  crops.  Recent  developments  in  the  use  of 
chemicals  to  reduce  or  prevent  weed  growth  indicate  that  weed  killers 
may  be  used  to  advantage  on  some  occasions.  The  chemicals  used 
should  be  those  that  cause  the  minimum  possible  damage  to  the  crops. 
Manufacturer's  instructions  on  the  amount  to  be  used  for  the  control 
of  weeds  on  the  root  crop  should  be  followed  closely. 

To  develop  normal  roots,  thinning  may  be  necessary  where  stands 
of  plants  are  thick.  Plants  should  be  evenly  spaced  in  the  row  with 
enough  distance  between  them  to  allow  for  fullest  root  growth. 
Thinning  is  more  essential  for  mangels  than  for  turnips  or  carrots. 
Mechanical  or  hand  thinning  is  practiced,  depending  on  the  size  of 
the  planting,  facilities  available,  and  extent  of  thinning  needed. 


Root  crops  are  harvested  before  severe  frosts  occur  or  when  leave> 
yellow  and  wither,  which  is  an  indication  of  maturity.  As  they  cannot 
stand  severe  frosts,  mangels  and  carrots  are  usually  harvested  earlier 
than  rutabagas  and  turnips.  When  harvesting  roots  for  storage,  care 
should  be  taken  to  prevent  cutting  or  bruising,  in  order  to  reduce 
possible  losses  from  storage  diseases.  For  best  storage  the  roots  should 
be  free  from  soil  and  reasonably  dry  when  put  into  storage.  Xo  leaf 
growth  should  remain.  It  is  preferable  to  remove  leaves  by  hand.  If 
a  cutter  is  used  to  remove  leaves,  it  often  cuts  or  bruises  the  roots. 

Mangels,  rutabagas,  and  carrots  generally  store  better  than  turnip-, 
especially  for  long  periods.  Storage  should  be  in  an  easily  accessible 
location  that  is  reasonably  well  ventilated  and  frostproof  (fig.  1). 
Preferable  temperature  range  is  from  36°  to  40°  F.  Storage  may  be 
in  buildinjrs  or  in  outside  pits.     Pits  are  usually  not  so  satisfactorv 

Figure  1. — Roots  piled  in  pit  and  being  covered  with  straw  before  covering  with 
soil  for  winter  storage.  Note  installation  of  ventilators.  (Courtesy  John 
Jacob  Astor  Experiment  Station,  Astoria,  ( )reg. ) 

or  convenient  as  inside  storage  facilities.  Pits  should  be  on  well- 
drained  sites  and  free  from  leaks  on  the  cover.  Insulation  such  as 
straw  or  sod  covered  with  6  inches  of  soil  will  protect  roots  in  the  pit 
from  freezing. 


The  cost  of  producing  root  crops  fluctuates  from  year  to  year  and 
varies  widely  in  different  parts  of  the  United  States.  Since  much 
hand  labor  is  required  in  producing  the  crop,  the  total  cost  is  influenced 
largely  by  the  prevailing  wage.  Except  for  harvesting  and  fertilizers, 
it  costs  very  little  more  to  produce  a  good  crop  than  a  poor  one; 
therefore,  in  those  sections  where  large  yields  are  usual,  the  cost  of 
producing  a  ton  of  roots  is  relatively  low.  Rutabagas  and  turnips 
usually  cost  15  to  20  percent  less  to  produce  than  mangels.  Carrots 
are  probably  the  most  costly  of  the  root  crops  per  ton  to  grow. 


Yields  of  root  crops  vary  with  the  climate,  soil  fertility,  moisture 
supply,  and  other  factors.  Mangels  usually  produce  a  greater  tonnage 
per  acre  than  other  root  crops.  Sometimes,  where  the  summers  are 
short  and  cool  and  the  moisture  abundant,  rutabagas  and  turnips 
produce  greater  yields  than  mangels. 

Under  favorable  conditions,  such  as  in  the  Pacific  Xortlrwest, 
mangels,  rutabagas,  and  turnips  yield  20  to  40  tons  per  acre.  Carrots 
under  similar  conditions  produce  about  half  this  amount.  In  the 
northern  Great  Plains  where  the  moisture  supply  is  limited,  mangels, 
rutabagas,  and  turnips  yield  5  to  10  tons  per  acre  and  carrots  2  to  4 
tons  per  acre. 


Insects  seldom  damage  mangels  and  carrots  seriously,  although 
occasionally  cutworms  destroy  a  stand  to  such  an  extent  as  to  neces- 
sitate reseeding.  Grasshoppers,  aphids,  flea  bettles,  cabbage  worms, 
and  root  maggots  are  sometimes  quite  destructive,  especially  to  ruta- 
bagas and  turnips.  The  information  available  for  the  control  of  such 
insects  as  pests  of  garden  root  crops  can  often  be  adapted  for  the  con- 
trol of  these  pests  on  similar  root  crops  grown  for  livestock.  Crop 
rotation  and  clean  farming  usually  reduce  insect  damage.  For  some 
crops,  especially  rutabagas  and  turnips,  seeding  at  a  time  when  insects 
are  least  likely  to  be  prevalent  in  destructive  numbers  prevents 


Root  crops  in  general  are  comparatively  free  from  very  destructive 
diseases.  Mangels  are  sometimes  attacked  by  dry  rot,  but  this  disease 
usually  does  not  cause  serious  damage.  A  bacterial  rot  is  sometimes 
quite  destructive  in  turnips.  Rutabagas  and  carrots  seldom  suffer  seri- 
ously from  disease  attacks.  When  diseases  appear,  however,  rotation 
of  crops  is  the  most  practical  means  of  control. 

1  Contributed  by  the  Entomology  Research  Branch. 


Turnips  are  likely  to  decay  rapidly  in  storage.  Decay  losses  are  not 
usually  serious  with  carrots,  rutabagas,  and  mangels  if  stored  under 
suitable  conditions. 


Eoot  crops  should  be  classed  as  highly  diluted  concentrates  rather 
than  as  roughages.  Excessive  feeding  may  overload  the  digestive 
organs  of  livestock  and  cause  indigestion,  on  account  of  the  high 
water  content  of  the  roots.  Ordinarily,  the  limit  is  3  to  5  pounds  of 
roots  per  100  pounds  live  weight  daily.  Only  half  that  amount  is 
recommended  when  the  roots  are  fed  as  a  source  of  succulence  and  an 
appetizer  and  not  as  an  important  source  of  nutrients. 

As  a  class,  roots  are  deficient  in  protein,  fat,  calcium,  and 
phosphorous.  With  the  exception  of  carrots  they  are  relatively  de- 
ficient in  vitamin  A,  but  all  the  root  crops  are  a  fair  source  of  other 

It  takes  approximately  8  to  10  pounds  of  roots  to  equal  1  pound 
of  grain.  In  large  quantities  it  takes  iy2  to  2  pounds  of  roots  to 
equal  a  pound  of  corn  silage,  as  the  roots  have  a  higher  water  content. 
When  fed  in  small  quantities  as  an  appetizer  a  pound  of  roots  is  usually 
equal  to  a  pound  of  silage. 

When  first  harvested  root  crops  have  a  laxative  effect,  which  dis- 
appears to  a  large  extent  after  they  have  been  stored  a  few  weeks. 

In  general,  wherever  starch  concentrates  such  as  corn  and  barley 
can  readily  be  produced  at  a  lower  cost  per  unit  of  dry  matter  than 
root  crops,  the  value  of  root  crops  in  livestock  feeding  is  limited  to 
the  feeding  of  small  quantities.  The  addition  of  1  to  2  pounds  of 
roots  per  100  pounds  live  weight  daily  provides  a  source  of  succulence 
and  an  appetizer  in  the  ration.  Throughout  most  of  the  United 
States,  corn,  sorgo,  grain  sorghum,  and  grass  or  grass-legume  silages 
are  cheaper  sources  of  succulence  than  root  crops  when  the  number  of 
livestock  is  large  enough  to  consume  50  tons  or  more  of  silage  during 
a  period  of  3  to  4  months.  These  limitations  vary  considerably  with 
the  kind  and  quality  of  silage,  type  of  silo,  and  weather  conditions. 

When  roots  are  fed  whole,  there  is  danger  of  animals  choking. 
Cutting  the  roots  is  preferable  for  older  animals  with  poor  teeth. 
Removal  of  excess  soil  before  feeding  is  desirable.  Cooking  or  steam- 
ing the  roots  is  a  waste  of  labor  and  is  expensive;  it  decreases  instead 
of  increases  the  feed  value  by  dsetroying  some  of  the  vitamins. 

Root  Crops  for  Cattle 

It  is  rarely  profitable  in  the  United  States  to  raise  root  crops  for 
maintaining  or  fattening  cattle.  Turnips  and  carrots  that  are  of  little 
value  for  marketing  as  food  can  be  fed  to  good  advantage. 

For  cows  giving  milk,  roots  are  especially  valuable.  A  small 
quantity  of  roots  may  often  improve  a  ration  containing  liberal 
quantities  of  grain,  legume  hay,  and  silage.  Carrots  may  be  fed  to 
cows  at  35  to  45  pounds  per  head,  and  mangels  at  the  rate  of  40  to  60 
pounds  daily.  Mangels  are  less  likely  to  taint  milk  than  are  rutabagas 
and  turnips.  Rutabagas  and  turnips  should  be  fed  after  milking  or  at 
noon  to  avoid  tainting  the  milk. 

Turnips  are  more  watery  than  most  roots  and  are  fed  principally 
to  cattle  and  sheep  in  the  fall.  Some  dairymen  feed  the  whole  turnip 
plant  because  they  believe  that,  pound  for  pound,  the  tops  are  nearly 
equal  to  the  roots  in  nutritive  value. 

Root  Crops  for  Sheep 

In  general  root  crops  are  not  an  economical  source  of  nutrients 
for  sheep.  In  most  cases  silage  is  a  more  satisfactory  source  of  suc- 
culence. Experiments  have  shown  that  iy2  pounds  of  roots  is  equal 
to  approximately  1  pound  of  corn  silage. 

The  favorite  roots  for  sheep  are  rutabagas  and  mangels,  although 
White  Belgian  carrots  may  be  fed  to  ewes  at  2  to  5  pounds  per  head, 
and  turnips  are  also  fed  during  the  fall  season. 

Root  Crops  for  Horses 

Roots  are  used  principally  for  horses  as  an  aid  to  digestion.  Where 
roots  are  fed,  other  laxative  feeds  should  be  omitted,  the  roughage 
supply  decreased,  and  the  grain  ration  should  contain  feeds  high  in 

Carrots  rank  first  among  root  crops  as  horse  feed.  They  are  ex- 
ceptionally good  for  colts,  brood  mares,  stallions,  idle  work  horses, 
and  horses  that  are  to  be  exhibited.  Usually  the  quantity  fed  should 
not  exceed  10  pounds  per  head  daily.  Chopping  the  roots  is  usually 
advisable.  Care  must  be  taken  in  feeding  mangels  to  horses  to  avoid 
digestive  disturbances. 

Root  Crops  for  Hogs 

Roots  have  little  value  in  the  ration  for  hogs  under  ordinary  farm 
conditions  when  good  rations  of  concentrates  are  being  fed.  Experi- 
mental work  indicates  that  it  takes  nearly  600  pounds  of  roots  to 
replace  100  pounds  of  grain.  Usually  more  satisfactory  results  are 
obtained  by  feeding  leafy  legume  hay. 

Mangels  are  consumed  with  the  greatest  relish  by  hogs,  although 
mangels,  rutabagas,  and  carrots  are  considered  practically  equal  in 
nutritive  value.    Turnips  are  not  a  desirable  hog  feed. 

Root  Crops  for  Poultry 

Although  mangels  and  carrots  provide  some  succulence,  they  are 
not  a  satisfactory  substitute  for  green  feed  for  poultry.  Rutabagas 
and  turnips  may  be  fed,  but  they  are  not  so  good  as  mangels  or  many 
other  succulent  feeds.  As  carrots  are  relatively  rich  in  vitamin  A, 
they  are  considered  the  best  roots  for  poultry.  Roots  should  be  fed 
whole ;  some  poultrymen  split  the  larger  roots. 

This  leaflet  supersedes  Farmers'  Bulletin  1699,  Growing  Root  Crops  for 


Washington,  D.  C.  Issued  March  1957 

For  sale  by  the  Superintendent  of  Documents,  Government  Printing  Office, 
Washington  25,  D.  C.  Price  5  cents